Question Of The Week: Zeroing In On Waste Reduction

Achieving a zero waste operation does not come without challenges, but the benefits are many: cost savings, energy savings, reduced air and water pollution, and more.

By Krista Jaeger

The United States generates more than 250 million tons of municipal solid waste each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).¹ In an effort to greatly reduce the amount of waste that is burned or buried and pollutes our land, water, and air, many organizations are identifying strategies that can divert these materials so that they become resources for others or are responsibly recycled. In fact, organizations and even entire cities and countries, such as San Francisco and Sweden, have taken this concept a step further by committing to zero waste goals.²

zero waste
A worker at the Arc Light Recycling Center separates recyclable material
from a pile at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The center’s goal is to
divert as much material out of the waste stream as possible.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Arielle Vasquez/Released)

Achieving a zero waste operation does not come without challenges. However, the benefits are many: cost savings, energy savings, reduced air and water pollution, and more. Plus, there now exists a program that certifies zero waste facilities so that organizations can celebrate and promote their commitment to sustainability.

The TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Zero Waste certification system is administered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the premier organization that independently recognizes excellence in green business performance and practice globally. Certification is available for any physical facility and its operations, including buildings owned or leased by businesses, property managers, schools, government agencies, and non-profits.

Your facility should understand how the process works and develop a practical guide for your zero waste efforts.

What To Know About The Certification Process³

Facilities must adhere to specific requirements to achieve and maintain their TRUE Zero Waste certification. For example, a facility must meet seven minimum program requirements and attain at least 31 points out of 81 total points on the program’s scorecard. These include having a zero waste policy in place, meeting all federal, state and local solid waste and recycling laws and regulations, and diverting 90 percent or more materials from landfill, incineration, and the environment for 12 months.

The entire process includes preliminary documentation review, an onsite assessment, and a final review. Depending on the requirements met, the facility will be recognized with one of several designations, including Certified (31-37 points), Silver (38-45 points), Gold (46-63 points), or Platinum (64-81 points).

For any organization thinking about getting certified, first consider becoming familiar with the accreditation process before diving deep into a zero waste program. The requirements can serve as a guide and possibly help your organization achieve goals more quickly.

Tips For Your Zero Waste Initiative

Both individual employee actions and close attention to (and potentially changes to) key processes will contribute to zero waste success. To provide direction and help your organization achieve its goals, develop a plan that includes the following steps.

  1. Assemble teams and champions dedicated to the program. “Green Teams” consisting of at least one employee from each department can help monitor progress and drive efforts by training others in their respective areas. These teams should aim to build confidence in the zero waste program and identify areas of opportunity that had not been previously considered. GBCI offers a TRUE Advisor program that recognizes if an individual possesses the basic knowledge of zero waste terminology and tools and can assist in the TRUE zero waste certification process.
  2. Assess your waste streams and levels to better understand the amount, composition and disposal method. First, map out all waste streams to identify where receptacles are needed for each type of waste. The goal is to make the process convenient and efficient so that employees can sort items properly. Use clear labels on the receptacles to avoid instances of incorrect waste sorting, as sometimes recyclable items are mistakenly thrown in the trash-to-landfill. Weigh outbound waste to track improvement over time.
  3. Educate employees to encourage involvement. To secure engagement, it will be important to identify ways to reduce, reuse or repurpose, and recycle waste so that employees are able to contribute to the program’s success. Consider having the Green Team host games, talks, and demonstrations to highlight zero waste goals and strategies. Think beyond the scope of the workplace by getting employees involved in organized events that solicit items from their households, like electronics recycling and paper shredding. Greater engagement will not only help your facility reach its zero waste goal more easily and quickly, but give employees a sense of accomplishment about improving sustainability within the company and their local community.
  4. Seek support from vendors to reach your zero waste goals. For example, by recycling cardboard and plastic your facility may be able to receive credit from a recycling provider. This strategy generates unexpected cost savings and will move the needle on your zero waste goal. Additionally, discuss how broken pieces of shipping pallets can be repurposed by the vendor delivering them. Some vendors may build new pallets from these scraps or reuse them in sawdust applications.
  5. Review processes in place, as certain strategies that qualify for credit may be surprising, such as the type of landscaping around your facility. It’s worth taking a second look to identify new ways to reuse and further reduce waste. For instance, reuse shipping materials like filler paper and cardboard boxes from incoming shipments for outgoing shipments whenever possible. If your facility generates fabric scraps, it may be able to partner with an organization that collects these to be recycled into new product or donate them to a local charity, such as animal shelters, which repurpose them for bedding and cleaning cloths.

Facilities certified under the TRUE system prioritize sustainability by focusing on ways to be more resource efficient. In doing so, organizations transform their waste into savings while engaging employees in an environmentally responsible program. By implementing the above strategies and understanding the ins and outs of the certification process, your organization will be better prepared to overcome zero waste challenges and achieve recognition for your efforts.


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Krista Jaeger is Manager of Sustainability at Cintas Corporation, North America’s largest professional uniform provider. For more information about the TRUE Zero Waste Program, visit

Have you taken any steps to achieve zero waste certification at your facility or facilities? What efforts have you made, and what do you have planned for the future? Which of these efforts have been most successful, and which haven’t worked as well? Share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the Comments section below.


  1. Most waste is created by packaging. There still is a lot of packaging that cannot be recycled or is put in the too hard basket and enters the waste stream. A zero waste effort should not be without (mandatory) guidelines for producers of packaging to use recyclable materials in a form that can be processed/recycled easily.

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